Brother, mentor, guide, friend, teacher. Ajit Tendulkar has played a lasting role in Sachin’s career, but has preferred to stay in the background. It is only now that he airs his views in the media, more than a decade after writing ‘The Making of a Cricketer’.
Reflecting on Sachin’s early days, Ajit says his younger brother’s talent caught the eye from the very beginning. “It was always there. If you ask me what talent is, then the answer could be different. The basic thing is that he had the ability; right from the time he played with a tennis/rubber ball in the society.”
What did he look for? “Obviously you don’t look at it from a technical point of view at that age, whether front foot, back foot, defending correctly, playing all around. With the rubber ball, it is not easy to do that. You look for three things basically. The lift, the execution (swing of the hands) and the main thing is picking length. Everything is subjective but for me that was the basic talent.”
How did he monitor Sachin’s progress? From the runs he made or the manner he played? “Everything actually! There are two aspects. You may be batting brilliantly but you have to score runs. Otherwise you won’t get picked. By coincidence both things happened. In terms of talent, we got feedback from outside. Umpire Gaundhalkar called Ramakant Achrekar and told him Sachin was going to play for India in the next four years.
“Achrekar Sir asked him, ‘Are you joking? He has to cross so many hurdles.’ But Gaundhalkar said, ‘You mark my words.’ He was right. Within four years Sachin was playing for India. At an under-17 camp (Sachin was 14) Vasu [Paranjpe] sir said he would play for India. The feedback was genuine. I may say Sachin is talented but the world also had to say that.”
How does he see his contribution as a mentor? “I was never the mentor. Actually it has been wrongly interpreted. The family was the mentor. I had played some cricket so I was like the middle man.
“I knew a bit of cricket so we would talk cricket. I made myself available for whatever he required. I was there every time he needed.”
Ajit respects Sachin’s critics. “As a cricketer everyone has assessed him. He has done very well. He had the talent to begin and then he became a skilful cricketer. It was his natural ability. He was a quick learner. Initially, he would play close to the body and push to score runs. Where do you get to play the pull or hook shot in domestic cricket? Against the West Indies he pulled Courtney Walsh for a six to complete a hundred. His self-analysis is superb.”
What impresses Ajit the most? “His handling of pressure is exemplary. This calmness has come from within, from Aai (mother) too. Father would be anxious but our maternal uncle was calm. And then his own demeanour. He has always been relaxed and grounded.”
The doting brother rates his 136 against Pakistan in 1999 as Sachin’s best. “It is my favourite innings.”
The innings also earned Sachin a rare admonition from the elder brother for getting out to an avoidable shot. The scolding only helped Sachin grow.